Fifteen years after Tyson, McNeeley looks back (cont.)
SI.com: What do you remember about the Tyson experience?
McNeeley: At the weigh-in, I was 224 and he was 220. They reweighed us one hour before the fight, after we'd both burned off a lot of nervous energy warming up. He was 216! I was 220. Mike Tyson at 216 is all [expletive] speed. The punches that hurt you the worst are the ones that you don't see. It was just crazy. When I met with him much later, he was 240. He was huge. And when I fought him, he was all ripped up.
My brother was working with Showtime. And the head producer of Showtime boxing was David Dinkins Jr., the former mayor of New York City's son. So [my brother] grabbed him after the fight and asked for a special tape of all the close-up angles, all of the raw footage with no commentary. And that's what I've still got today on DVD. When someone wants to see it, that's what I show them.
When Vinny stopped the fight [89 seconds into the first round], people were upset. I watched the films. I can't argue. People who have never had a boxing glove on, they say he stopped it too soon. Look at the video. You can see my eyes are completely dilated like I possibly had a concussion. The lights are on but nobody's home. I was knocked out but I was still on my feet.
I go into the ropes, my legs are gone. If the ropes weren't there, I'd be sitting on Pamela Anderson's [breasts]. I was gone. Besides, if Vinny didn't stop it, who would have ever done the commercials? If he didn't do it so controversially, we never would have gotten the America Online commercial or the Pizza Hut commercial, which paid another easy $300,000.
SI.com: Things turned for the worse after ...
McNeeley: I hit a real bad spot in my life in '96. I'd had 44 pro fights in 60 months. I was burned out mentally, physically and spiritually. I had to drop out of sight. I tucked into a crack house in Brockton [Mass.]. I lived there, walking distance from the Petronelli gym. I blew like 40 grand in six weeks. No sleeping, no eating, it was crazy. I walked into that house at 220 pounds, weeks after I'd had a fight. And I walked out six weeks later at a buck-ninety-five. The Jenny Crack diet! And I went into my first rehab with Chris Farley. They put us in the same group together because they thought we could help each other. He died a year to the date that we left rehab.
Thank God my mom held on to my money. While I was living in that house, she sent my oldest brother, the producer for Showtime, to the bank. He looks so much like me, so she gave him my account number and they grabbed my money. At the time I was crying about it, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
My last fight was nine years ago, this past June 9. At the end, I was taking fights on short notice. "Have gloves, will travel." I fought in Copenhagen, Denmark, in '99 on short notice against Brian Nielsen. Then in '01, my last fight was in Cape Town, South Africa, on eight days notice. I was awake 54 hours traveling, with a 12-hour layover in London. I fought a kid from Cape Town, Mike Bernardo, who was a world champion kickboxer. In Africa and Asia, kickboxing is everything. We don't see it here like they see it over there.
In regular boxing, Bernardo was a WBF champion. It's all about the alphabet now, and technically my last fight was for the championship of the world. For that fight, I was probably in the best shape of my career, because I'd battled with the booze/drug thing. I didn't realize it because I was young and I didn't get it. I started drinking and smoking pot when I was 10. I figure by the time I was 13, I was probably an alcoholic.
SI.com: Have you been in touch with Tyson since you met in the ring?
McNeeley: People ask, "Would you still have fought him?" You're [expletive] right I would have fought Mike.
Mike has contacted me a couple times after the fight. He contacted me in 1998. If you remember, he bit [Evander] Holyfield in '97, which we all called Pay-Per-Chew -- a little bad boxing humor. Mike served a year suspension and went back in front of the board to get his license back. They said he had to pass an intensive psychiatric evaluation. Boston has a huge medical community, so he came to Boston and he -- by complete coincidence -- ended up with my old limousine driver. I was friendly with [the driver], so it wasn't unusual that he'd call me. He calls and says he's driving Tyson and says, "Can I mention your name to him?"
I come home from the gym and Tyson's on my voice mail asking if I wanted to hook up. Next thing I know, the limo driver was banging on my door saying Tyson wanted to see me right now. Apparently, he wanted to take me out to dinner. Then he wanted me to go with him to this famous club in Boston and check out the local talent. So I went to his hotel room. He sat me down and we talked for a half-hour. It wasn't a press conference, it wasn't a weigh-in, it wasn't a fight -- it was just me and him alone in a room.
When he turned pro, it was still '84, '85. I was a senior in high school. I remember watching him fight, the Olympic trials, early pro fights on ESPN. This is back before I even had my first amateur fight and I hadn't even started training yet. I was still a wannabe and he was a hero to me. My freshman year of college, we would drive home to watch him fight on HBO or Showtime. He was one of my heroes.
He paid me respect. He didn't have to call me. He didn't have to leave a message or let me in his room.
SI.com: Have you heard from Tyson recently?
McNeeley: Three years ago this past March. Remember when he got popped for driving under the influence and possession of coke? He did a stint in rehab to get a lighter sentence. Apparently at this rehab center, they took him to a local Y and let him work out. Well, he ran into a friend of mine from Boston at the Y. My buddy said to him, "I'm friends with Peter." He said, "Yeah, you got his phone number?" Tyson called and we ended up talking for like three months.
SI.com: How is life for you today?
McNeeley: My daughter, Nadiya Gabrielle, will be 3 in November. She's just like Obama: half-black and half-white. When Obama was elected president, I was sitting with her mother crying. And Nadiya's mother said, "Why are you crying?" And I said, "Because they're the same." Who knows, maybe she'll grow up someday and be president. I'm just happy being a dad.
SI.com: You're still very well-known.
McNeeley: I'm humble enough today to say it's not me, it's Mike Tyson. My name is forever linked with his.